SK (now sound asleep while the plane she's on flies over the pole) and I had a great conversation today as I drove her down I-5 to the airport. She was telling me about a couple of conversations she had early in her vacation with a close friend who happens to be a non-believer, about how this friend didn't understand why SK wouldn't be interested in a young man they both know who is also not a believer, a young man who has expressed interest in SK more than once.
"Why won't you give him a chance?" this friend asked SK. "I know you have fun with him."
"There are just too many differences. Important ones. It's not like we disagree about music or movies! It's core stuff. At the heart of it is that he's not a Christian."
"But maybe you can make him be a Christian. He'd be willing to change for you."
"I don't want that," SK told her. "He needs to change because it's true and right for him, not for me."
SK has it right, I know. Though she thinks this young man is a great guy, he isn't right for her, and she can't change him. I get this. I've lived it myself in a different way.
It's a familiar notion that a person might 'make' someone else be a Christian. I remember back when my middle brother was particularly troubled in his mostly-troubled life. He spent quite a while in a Children's Psychiatric Hospital, then a year in a Psychiatric group home. More than once during that time, my dad (not yet a Christian) asked me about converting Andrew. I told him there was no way I could convert my little brother. Or convert anyone. Conversion isn't the domain of humans. We can talk to people about what we believe, we can point them in the direction of Light, but we can't move them. "But isn't there a program you can put together to make it happen?" Dad asked. I remember telling Dad how allergic I was (even in my mid-twenties) to programs. Programs, like 'religion', doesn't save anyone.
Relationships do. Back then, I often had the task of picking Andrew up at his group home in Spokane and driving him home for the weekend. I was a grad student at the time, and there was space in my life for that job. And, I admit, once or twice or maybe every time, I talked to Andrew about Jesus. But you know what? All my talking was for naught. And you know why? I didn't really have a genuine interest in Andrew's life. In his thoughts, in his motivations. I admit that now. Yes, he was a difficult child. And sometimes--often--inscrutable, like he was from the far side of the moon. It seemed to me that he had almost no interior life, no sense of consequences, no strong emotions. But I didn't offer him many chances. I was too busy telling him what he should believe, how he should feel. Shoot, I was probably worse than all those programs I hated. At least they had snacks at the end. No, my words made absolutely no difference in Andrew's life.
But someone's did. A youth leader at my family's Methodist Church took an interest in Andrew. A deep interest in him. That youth leader (whose name I can't summon at the moment) spent a whole lot of time with my troubled middle brother. He went to movies with Andrew (and Andrew was always--ALWAYS!--addicted to movies), took him out for cokes, to camps. Just hung out with him. And when Andrew dis-located himself from our family, when he cut the ties as far as we could tell, he continued to call Scott (yeah, I remembered his name!). In fact, after Andrew died, we discovered that he'd gone on mission trips with Scott's new church--a church in Oklahoma!
And that's what changes people. A person like Scott, investing time and interest in a troubled young man. A person who allows that troubled young man to be himself but invites him in to something. It's those relationships that God is in, I know. Andrew didn't change for Scott, but perhaps, (I hope) God worked through Scott to bring my brother closer to Himself. He does that. He uses us. But it's always, always HIM working, changing, converting people. We are never more than the tool. Never more than a hammer, for instance. And I've never seen a hammer yet that took credit for pounding in nails!
So let's embrace our tooled-ness. Let's be the best dang hammers and wrenchs and awls we can be. Let's be the object He uses whenever, however He wants. And allow Him to work us, work through us...simply work.